COVID-19 case-fatality rate in Manitoba is down 60 per cent since the 1st year of the pandemic

Compared to the first year of the pandemic, the average Manitoban who contracts COVID-19 is far less likely to die from the disease, provincial data reveals.

Vaccines, shift toward younger patients have driven down the deadliness of COVID-19

Vaccines — and the way they have been rolled out — have reduced COVID-19's case-fatality rate in Manitoba from 2.8 per cent during the first year of the pandemic to 1.1 per cent so far during this second year. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Compared to the first year of the pandemic, the average Manitoban who contracts COVID-19 is far less likely to die from the disease, provincial data reveals.

Widespread vaccinations have vastly reduced COVID-19's case-fatality rate, a term used to describe the proportion of people who contract a disease who end up dying from it.

During the first year of the pandemic in Manitoba, which began with the the province's first case on March 12, 2020, 2.8 per cent of the Manitobans who caught COVID-19 succumbed to the illness, according to a CBC News analysis of public health statistics.

That was the second-highest case-fatality rate among Canada's provinces, as only Quebec had a deadlier initial year of the pandemic.

Manitoba's COVID case-fatality rate has since plummeted to 1.1 per cent for the second year of the pandemic so far, according to the same statistics.

Vaccinations — plus a demographic shift induced by the way vaccinations have rolled out — have reduced COVID's case-fatality rate in this province by more than 60 per cent.

In the simplest possible terms, the vaccines are doing what public health officials hopes they would do: Save lives.

"Cases don't have the same meaning as they did before vaccinations. The pathology is dampened because of vaccinations," said Fatima Tokhmafshan, a Montreal geneticist and bioethicist who conducts community outreach for the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network.

The relationship between vaccinations and the reduced case-fatality rate is not a simple matter of preventing infections.

Manitoba's decision to vaccinate older members of the general population ahead of young people shifted the burden of COVID infections on to those more likely to survive the disease, said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a medicine professor and infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta.

"I think that the case-fatality shift really is a consequence of that move of activity from the older, high-risk population to a younger population who is less likely to die when they're infected," Saxinger said.

"When you look at who's getting infected, it's an unvaccinated population, but it's a younger, unvaccinated population."

Better outcomes for the vaccinated

At the same time, the vaccines are also conferring more protection against severe instances of COVID-19 among those who contract the disease even though they have their shots.

"For those people who are infected after being vaccinated, which would include some of those more frail, elderly people and people with medical conditions, they still are having better outcomes than they would have otherwise because the vaccine is protective against severe disease for most, if not all of those people," Saxinger said.

Manitoba public health data reveals the few dozen fully vaccinated COVID patients who died from the disease tended to be older.

Of the 1,015,877 Manitobans who were fully vaccinated by Nov. 13 of this year, 35 have died from COVID-19, according to the province's latest COVID-19 epidemiology report.

Of those 35, one was in their 40s, two were in their 50s, and seven were in their 60s. The remaining 25 were 70 or older, the report stated.

"One of the things that's been really reassuring about the vaccines is that even though we know they don't protect against all infections, that they so clearly are protecting against severe outcomes," said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead on Manitoba's vaccine implementation team.

Nonetheless, the waning immunity conferred by a double dose of COVID vaccines has led the province to encourage older Manitobans and people with certain health conditions to get booster shots six months after their second dose.

"That's where the booster becomes important to keep that case-fatality rate down," she said.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.


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